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Once upon a time there was a young marketing ploy called BOGO. His parents SALE and TODAY ONLY had been around for quite a while, but when their images became a bit shopworn, they produced this new offspring. His full name is BUY ONE, GET ONE and he is the older of twins. His younger sister was born smaller, and not so ardently loved, but she is growing all the time and threatens to overshadow him soon. Her name is BUY ONE, GET ONE 1/2 OFF.

I’ve known BOGO since I was very young. I’ve spent many happy hours in the stores where he was playing, and succumbed to his charms more times than I care to remember. You’ve met him, too, I’ll bet, and found yourself the proud owner of two bottles of antacid for the price of one. Of course, the meds will sit in the closet and pass their expiration date because you don’t need antacids in the first place, but what the heck? That second one was FREE!

I’ve been working hard to immunize myself against the effects of BOGO. I try to remember to always ask myself do I really need two of those? As often as not, I realize that I don’t need even one; but if I’m not careful, I get caught up in what I call Freebie Frenzy.

Overall, I’m proud of my progress. Just last week I avoided purchsing a pair of executive sawhorses. They were beautiful things, huge and bright, with steel legs and shiny wood surfaces. There were gears and handles and clips everywhere to make life easier for the professional builder. They’d take up half my garage. Just in time, it occurred to me that in my immediate family, both are retired, both are over 70 years of age and unlikely to take on large construction projects, and we haven’t needed even one sawhorse in quite a few years. I kept my hands in my pockets and my credit card (which would have taken a hit even with BOGO) safely tucked in my wallet. Hooray for me!

Am I now immune to the Freebie Frenzy? Not a chance. I’m certainly more cautious, but I still get tempted by BOGO’s ever-increasing cousins. One of the most insidious is the ad that says Your final cost – FREE! Read the tiny print: After rebate and including Comeback Bucks. Don’t think this means you’ll pay less for that item today. The Comeback Bucks print on your register receipt, and require you to come back to the store at another time to spend them. Gotcha!

The hardest to ignore are the ones that ask you to buy a gift card, and tantalize you with the offer of a free smaller card for yourself. Jack in the Box lured me first, back when I was still working. It was steps from my office, so I had lunch there almost every day. One day a sign in the window caught my eye: Buy a $20 gift card, and get a free combination meal! Wow! I could get a meal worth about $7.00 right there on the spot for free, and gift myself with the card for lunches the rest of the week. That one was really a pretty good deal. I never wasted a penny of it.

The concept has gone through several evolutions, some good, some not so good. This year I’m seeing a significant change in the terms of many offers. Instead of the second (free) gift card, which you could spend just like money, places are offering a gift coupon. What’s the difference? Well, at least in California, a paid gift card is free of restrictions. It spends the same way as your pictures of Lincoln or Hamilton, and it doesn’t expire. The new coupons they offer, on the other hand, not only expire in a month or so, but they are discounts rather than “cash.” Some of the coupons are no different from the ones they send every week in the throwaway flyer anyway. They come with restrictions: Five dollars off on two entrees and two drinks. Before January 31. If you can provide proof of citizenship and happen to be wearing an orange all-wool coat produced in Zip Codes of ….

Okay, I’m exaggerating a wee bit. The thing to remember is that all of these things are designed to get your money, now or later. Any enterprise would be foolish–and soon out of business–if it provided free goods and services with no anticipation of return on that investment. All you need to do is be aware. If you see a BOGO on something you use, grab it, but not before you check that the price on the BO part hasn’t been increased to help offset the free GO. It pays to shop around.

Have fun shopping!

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.

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